I am Corfiot. To be honest, I feel more Corfiot than Greek. Even if I don´t live in Corfu, my relations with the island are strong and constant. And Corfiot dishes are the only Greek ones I cook.
Greek? Is Corfiot cuisine Greek indeed?
Well, not exactly, Corfu is the less Greek part of the country. My island unified with Greece only 150 years ago, till that era for many centuries it was Venetian, English, French and Russian.
In Corfu everything is different. The local language (many Italian words and expressions), the climate (very rainy), the landscape (more green than the …….. Green Park), the architecture (similar to that of the Veneto region) and, naturally, the cuisine (with plenty of dishes and desserts of Italian, French and English origin).
CORFIOT CUISINE IS MONUMENTAL. It has nothing to do with the rest of Greek cuisine, which is more oriental, more Turkish, more heavy and oily. Corfiot cuisine is elegant, aristocratic, European.
Before continuing, I want to recommend you two books on Corfiot cuisine.
a) First of all Dianna Farr Lewis and June Marino´s “Prospero´s Kitchen”. This is my favourite Greek cook book. It covers not only Corfu, but also the other Ionian islands (Zante, Kefalonia, Paxi and Lefkada) containing at the same time traditions, tales, histories from the everyday life etc., as the blockbusters of Gerald and Lawrence Durrell do.
b) “Corfiot Cuisine” by Vasiliki Karounou. This is a more contemporary and more culinary attempt by a very good cook who has studied the local cuisine very well. Karounou lives in a vineyard in Corfu, where she runs a very beautiful restaurant.
Corfu has many traditional culinary products. The most famous of them are:
a) The Corfiot butter, the absolutely best in Greece. You can find it only in Corfu, it is made exclusively with milk from free range cows, who live in the island. These cows are fed with local plants, which are bloomed for many months during the year. These flowers give to the butter its unique golden colour and its great fragrant taste.
b) The wild strawberries of the variety fragaria vesca, small but at least 1.000.000 times more aromatic than the common ones. Do I exaggerate? Ok 999.999 times. With this special fruit an, also special, jam is produced, used by many pastry shops in Corfu town.
c) The kumquats. This tiny citrus fruit of Chinese origin is produced in Corfu (and nowhere else in Greece) for at least 100 years. Kumquat is used in dishes fresh or it is made candied, marmalade and also liquor.
d) The ginger beer. It is a usual everyday moment of Corfiots sitting at Liston, drinking ginger beer and watching …….. cricket. The rest of Greeks ignores not only this refreshment and the game, but even the corresponding words.
e) The fig pie (sikomaida), a mix of dried figs, ouzo, spices and pepper, which is eaten as a “meze” with brandy or other distillates.
f) The nubulo, one of the best cold cuts ever tried. It is made of the fillet of the pork animal and it is matured for months. A very common starter at Corfiot restaurants
g) The “spetsierika”, combinations of spices for meat, fish and other Corfiot dishes. These spices in Corfu are sold in …… pharmacies, Carmela´s the most famous of all.
And what about restaurants? Hmmmm……..
My great grandfather was the founder of a well known tavern in Corfu town. He sold it some years later. This tavern still exists at the same place and under the same name. Last year, when I was in Corfu, I wanted to retry the tavern, which offers (supposedly) traditional Corfiot dishes. WHAT A FUCKING DISAPPOINTMENT!!!
Everything was badly made. There were some good elements but it was obvious that the resto needed a new chef. And it couldn´ t be different, as some minutes later I realized that the tavern was bought and run by …… Albanians. I want to make clear that I have nothing against Albanians and generally immigrants, but a tavern with traditional Corfiot cuisine needs not only a Greek, but a Corfiot chef.
People who follow the page may know that I have an heretical opinion on tradition and that I generally think of it as a brake to openminded cooks. Tradition does not let you reflect upon the correctness of a method, a technique, an ingredient, a pairing. It limits you and sets standards that sometimes are better to avoid. But when tradition is promoted it has to be done with rules.
So, nowadays it is not easy to taste the Corfiot cuisine. Massive tourism has ruined my island. Yes, I know, tourism is economical oxygen for Corfu, but there is also a dark side of it.
During the decades of the 80s and 90s eating in Corfu was a torture. The island was seeking for its new identity, meanwhile millions of low budget tourists “occupied” Corfu from April to October. The historical dishes of Corfiot cuisine disappeared, cheap Greek and English style food was served everywhere.
But the last ten years things have changed. The island has created its new DNA, local products are rising and the Corfiot cuisine is reborn.
So, allow me to propose some places in Corfu where you can eat really well:
a) The word “Rex” in Latin language means the King and this is exactly what the homonymous restaurant for the Corfiot cuisine is. Situated at an excellent position, just behind the famous Liston and Spianada Square. It offers top edge local dishes, as you can see at the photo above.
I adore Rex. Each time I go to Corfu, Rex is the first restaurant I visit, to taste its marvellous chicken (and later duck) with kumquat and not only. I also respect Rex because it resisted during the difficult years of massive tourism and the crisis and it refused to sacrifice its cuisine for some more money.
If its cooks prepared the famous pastitsado rooster with a la minute and al dente pasta (bucatini), it would be an absolutely perfect restaurant.
b) A few kilometres away form Corfu town (direction south), at a village called Viros, there is a hidden taverna, “Stamatis”, maybe the best on the island. First of all, the place is marvellous. Its garden is practically in the forest and it offers a natural coolness all the times, even if the whole island is “burning”.
The excellent cuisine of Stamatis offers all the famous Corfiot dishes (sofritto, pastitsado, bianco, bourdetto etc.). Very good grilled meat is also served, paired with freshly made fried potatoes. Don´t forget to visit it.
c) At the southern edge of the beach of my village (Paghi) there is a unique fish tavern, categorized by the famous Greek guide “Athinorama” among the 10 best in whole Greece.
“Fisherman´s Cabin” is very difficult to reach. You can arrive there only on foot or with an enduro moto or an off-road car. It is situated at a cape, so isolated that there is not even electric current !!!!!!
Kostas, the owner of the tavern is very particular, it is impossible to forget him, even when you leave the island. I love him because he sets the rules in his cuisine and sticks to them.
What can you eat at the Fisherman´s Cabin?
Everything found in the sea. And not only fish and seafood, but also strange plants from the bottom of the sea, collected by scuba divers!!!!!
But the jewels of the tavern are its salad made by artichokes, cultivated on the tavern’s yard and, above all, THE MARVELLOUS a la minute bourdetto, which Costas prepares with the fish you select.
Listen to your friend (that´s me, of course) and when you visit Corfu, stay a night at Saint George beach (at the north, there is also St George beach at the south), just to visit the Fisherman´ s cabin. It will be an unforgettable night.
d) At Nikiforou Theotoki, the main street of the old town (which connects the Spianada square with “Spilia”), there is one of the most special and atmospheric patisseries in Greece, “Papagiorgis”.
The first time I had visited the pastry shop was more than 40 years ago and from that moment NOTHING has changed ………. . Everything is like half a century ago!!!! Papagiorgis produces old fashioned sweets, with plenty of sugar and serves them in old fashioned confections, as well.
Excellent fogatsa (the Corfiot brioche) with orange, all the palette of kumquat, Italian style mostarda and other marmalades, the best ice cream in town and mega tasty pastries as the MONUMENTAL mille-feuille with wild strawberry jam or the nougatine with cream made of almonds.
I couldn´t finish the tribute to the Corfiot cuisine, without presenting you the most iconic Corfiot dishes prepared by us. Some of them are already published on our site, some others will be published soon.
1. Corfu is even greener that Boston Celtics jersey, so it was always a paradise for the cultivators. Before the arriving of massive tourism, Corfu was almost self-sufficient, there was no need to “import” fruits and vegetables from continental Greece.
Fresh, wet chickpeas is a strong memory from my childhood. Itinerant peasants used to sell them in packages during July and August and the Corfiot housewives and cooks prepared them right away with fresh open air tomatoes.
You can find our version aquí.
2. Fish “in bianco” is one of the two main ways the Corfiots cook fish. Bianco is a simple white sauce, bound with oil and some potato starches. The fish, usually not expensive, must be fat and very fresh. You can find our version of bianco aquí.
3. Bourdeto is a dish of Venetian origin (as the majority of Corfiot ones), cousin of the Italian “bordetto”. It can be made as a soup but also, denser, as braised. The most common selection is the scorpion fish, but I think that stingray is also amazing and more hearty.
Try our version of bourdeto by clicking aquí.
4. Savoro is a cooking way and also a conservation method. It was vastly used during the years, where no fridges were available. It is a MONUMENTAL dish that every one has to try.
Savoro (a paraphrasis of Venetian “in saor”) turns cheap fish, like sardines, to a prime snack, always ready to cover our fishy needs and to accompany a glass of white wine.
Have you prepared our savoro? If not, click aquí. to find out the way.
5. Venetians brought pasta in Corfu earlier than any other place in Greece and the Corfiots developed their own ways of cooking it, with the traditionally used ingredients of the island.
The most common pasta shape is bucatini and the most common basic tomato sauce (pumarola) is a red one with butter and many many spices.
Try our version of this special pasta dish by clicking aquí.
6. The Jewish community of Corfu was one of the largest in Greece. Actually, there was a ghetto at Corfu town, called Ovriaki, “the Jewish district”. The Jewish tradition left to Corfu a fantastic salad with finocchio, black olives and grapefruit.
Learn how to prepare this fragrant salad aquí.
7. Pasta Frolla is just how the Corfiots call the famous and unique Italian crostata, referring mostly to its dough – the pasta frolla dough. At Corfu town you can find “jam tarts” in every pastry shop and I reassure you that the Corfiots make it perfect, fantastic. But you don´t have to go to Corfu to eat a local Pasta Frolla, DemocraticGourmet.com will let you know soon the best recipe available.
8. THE KING. Pastitsado chicken is the jewel of Corfiot cuisine and one of the best chicken dishes in the world. Don´t you believe me? You will, soon, when we publish the recipe, I just tell you that pastitsado chicken is only comparable with a well made coq au vin.
9. Have you ever eaten a garlic head? NO? Sofrito, veal with extreme garlic, vinegar and parsley will teach you than garlic can be not-caustic, but also ……… sweet. Continue following our page and you will soon learn how to prepare it.
10. Nubulo cold cut is maybe the best in Greece. Smoked, lean and very attractive, it is used often as a part of expensive cheese and cold cuts platters. In Corfu they also prepare an egg pasta with spaghetti and nubulo.
If you have a little bit of passience, you will find the recipe soon on our site.
And don´t forget: Goulis Winery is my cousins´ one. So, Democratic too. You must try their Kakotrygis, a local variety soon.
Have also in mind that Corfu is the most beautiful island in Greece, where European kings and princes have cottages. When you find some time and money, catch the airplane and land to the greener part of Greece.
Who knows, you may meet there, Alkinoos, Nausica and other Homeric heroes.
Till that moment, get linked to DemocraticGourmet.com, we will soon start a large trip there, which will convince you to follow our suggestion.